|30 April, 2017

Why the CFO is central to business transformation

The modern CFO is no longer a mere number cruncher, but adds commercial value and supports the CEO.

Why the CFO is central to business transformation
30 April 2017
In 2008, an article published by Deloitte University Press revealed how finance was quietly emerging as a key to business transformation. "Financial management is evolving from an uninspiring, albeit necessary, function of doing business to one of the most promising levers of business transformation."

Since then, Steven Ehrenhelt, one of the report's co-authors, has documented the value add of the chief financial officer and finance executives within the entire matrix of the business, and their prominence within the organisational structure.

The CFO is at the fulcrum of the operational as well as the financial aspects of lean and more innovative corporations, according to Enrenhelt, Deloitte Consulting's principal in U.S. and global leader finance transformation.

Cross-streaming: the omnipotent CFO

Also emerging within the corporate stream of consciousness is the concept of cross-streaming, which refers to the increasingly omnipotent nature of finance executives as they oversee the micro and macro elements of the company.

Far from big brother ideology, it is a recognised good business practice that ensures finance leaders are aware of the procedures, products, personnel and purpose behind decisions being debated and implemented across the organisation.

Business partnering structures are increasingly being adopted which put finance at the heart of decision-making and the CFO in every discussion.

The Hays 2017 GCC Salary and Employment report reveals individuals most in demand are those with business partnering capabilities: those who have a proven ability for setting and fulfilling business strategies in order to strengthen the organisation's market position in what Hays regards as an increasingly competitive landscape.

Helping make better decisions

"In general, CFOs need to act as effective business partners who are able to work with the rest of a business and provide advice and support. It is important to be able to use analytical skills to summarise data into headline information for the company to use to make sound business decisions," says Jon Ashcroft, practice head of recruitment firm Hays Executive in Dubai

"An effective CFO should know how to keep up to speed with new technology, as well as understand the trends and business drivers affecting their sector, coupled with the ability to be a strong leader."

That leadership includes recognising, for example, that the upcoming VAT introduction is not a personnel conundrum but one that can be solved by external partners that can provide VAT-specific software as a service. It is a methodology that rationalises headcount while adopting digital and agile solutions.

Ashcroft concurs. "For a long time, technology has played a key role in accounting and finance. This is not going to change. Finance leaders need to remain on top of the technological tools available to them and their departments to ensure that their function is as effective as it can be."

At the vanguard of business transformation

The other solution is the recruitment of polymaths, which preserves the dynamic nature of the company while remaining economical. Within the Middle East, Hays is witnessing companies expanding role remits of more senior professionals rather than hiring multiple specialists.

Ensuring personnel agility requires collaboration between finance and HR executives to align best value for money with the right skillsets. It is a further example of the cross-streaming nature of the CFO's remit to modernise and harmonise the structure, and identify if investment results in measurable returns.

As the Middle East emerges from an economic lull brought on by low oil prices, the Hays report illustrates employment trends. "Organisations are looking to grow teams, particularly in the finance sector where firms have been through large restructuring phases; cyber security threats; and regional focus on entrepreneurship and innovation in order to be competitive in the global economy."

The word "competitive" is one synonymous with business activity in the Middle East and one used often by Ashcroft. "A CFO must be able to play a role in assisting a company steer through various market conditions and changes in the economy that their business operates in. Within a highly competitive environment companies must be able to adapt quickly to changes in their sector."

In order to do so, the emerging CFO is the one that is communicative and vigilant, so that they do not just make the numbers add up but understand the narrative behind the numbers and if services, systems and staff are serving their purpose in driving corporate transformation.

Ashcroft concludes that finance is now central to the stewardship of business by quoting Paul Venables, Hays finance director: "Nobody's going to hire you simply for your ability to add up the numbers. Clearly you're responsible for all aspects of finance, but you're here to add commercial value and support the chief executive in running the business."

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